Monday, December 27, 2010

Dine, Moroccan style

Back in time for my favorite holiday, we headed out to Marrakech this December, ready for time relaxing at our amazing riad, warmer than London weather, overeating and celebrating the welcome demise of my youth... I long for a return (But not in the hot season. We were told it was 40C at Ramadan, yikes!).

I could chatter for days with my impressions of Morocco, to anyone who cared to listen. But let me regale you with some snippets of what we ate. And pictures, of course!
crumbs after breakfast

First course plate- one of several
Our amazing riad- Dar Chelita was absolute perfection from the moment I made contact with it's lovely owner, Trevor. He set up a driver to receive us at the airport- Abdul, who was our guardian everytime we crossed the threshold of his beige Merc. We had a feast awaiting us when we arrived at the riad, perfect atmosphere on the rooftop balcony after and stars. So many stars. I'm convinced that Trevor collaborated with Driss (our house manager) on that! Aicha fed us like royalty the whole trip, making regional dishes and always had an endless supply of kid treats for our toddler, who thanked her with hugs, kisses and a flood of affection.

And another, faint drizzle of honey
Dry cured olives with red pepper strips
And another, pink olives and artichoke
I was so relaxed and blissed out I mostly forgot to take pictures of 80% of what we ate. I failed to photograph the massive tray of mutton I scarfed (alone) with pink olives purchased from the souq across the way. (£1 for 1 kilo, unbelieveable). I never took any pictures of the numerous dishes being prepared in the street, not just tagines, but once in a while I put my jaw back in place, pulled out the camera and caught a few good snaps.

That bread... aaah.
Cous cous with melting beef shin
There was the cafe outside of the Saadian Tombs that served up simple kebabs, Moroccan salad (very similar to salsa) and the ever present not-so-flat-bread which I could live on. Cellars of salt and the local cumin, which I daresay is vastly different form Mexican and Indian- so green, so easy to grind (you can pulverize it between the balls of your hands), on the tables and ras al hanout were all the condiment needed.

I managed to document a few courses from a couple of Aicha's beautiful meals and have scattered them around this post. That desire to return is even deeper now that I've browsed through these pictures and memories again...

The lamb heart and fat kebabs I devoured in lightning speed
Moroccan salad
After 3 hours at the Hammam I was famished!

The wee one chats with his lamb kebab

Local cumin

Fed and happy

Aicha, kind, talented and so affectionate

What a gorgeous herb garden. Genius!
Driss, a star

Last but not least, Aicha's pumpkin confit. Sublime.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

November Comfort Dining- Japan and Korea

Well, another beautifully dreary month and another comforting menu that, with any luck, would make you excited the sun goes down at 4 pm leaving you hours and hours to sup on dinner before bedtime.

In keeping with the theme I set out to turn into a triptych, this month will be homey stews and things your auntie would make to stick to your ribs.  Well, your Korean auntie.

Here's the menu and there are still some seats left on both days- November 18 and 19. The fun begins at 7:30 at our flat in Hampstead. £40 donation and bring your own bevvie.

Amuse Bouche:
Chawan Mushi- a small teacup filled with savory Custard, Salmon, Shiitake Mushroom and Shiso Leaf

Oden - Street food in Japan, this soup is served in winter to heat the body.  Little purses of vegetables share the bowl with daikon, fish, mushrooms and other savories.

Bibimbap – A Korean dish serves an array of fresh salad vegetables on top of shredded barbecued pork and beef, julienned egg omelet, sesame oil and rice. 
Drunken Belly Pork – A recipe from my dear friend Nori, who is of Taiwanese descent but raised in Okinawa.  Pork Belly is slowly cooked with shredded bamboo shoot, rock sugar and beer.  Plate lickingly good.
Soondubu Jigae – This lovely Korean stew gets its heat from the red gochujang chili paste but also from being served in a special stone dish that keeps the dish boiling as you eat.  Soft tofu is added at the end and an egg served at the table. 

Black Sesame Macarons, Fresh Mochi and Green Tea Ice Cream

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Comfort dining glossy pictures

Hot tamales, as yet unwrapped

Opened and topped with a bit of Tomatillo Salsa

Rellenos stuffed with shredded pork, apricot and cheese sitting on a bit of salsa nogal

Who doesn't want to see pictures on a blog?  I think that may be 90% of what people read the food ones for.  Of, well, really maybe less because some people like to sample the recipes (which I've been lax about posting of late, an old good habit I need to resuscitate...).  But for now here are some snaps of the Latin Comfort foods.
Caipirinha jellies layered with the tasty cocktail and coconut milk

The gringo moqueca came out just lovely, only one squeamish diner passed on the whole prawns.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Three Part Secret Dining Series- Comfort Foods

***********A FEW SPOTS STILL OPEN FOR EACH NIGHT IN OCTOBER.  PLEASE EMAIL for a booking. *************

In honor of the recent change in weather, I've been revisiting recipes that stick to the ribs, heat up the kitchen and make the whole flat smell of stewed foods, roasted meats and baked pastries.  Not a bad way to usher the rain in, I suppose.

When first I sat down to write out menus for October's Secret Dinner I had the idea of stews of the world.  But as I mulled over oden and rice cake stews, the menu started to divide and multiply, like mitosis.  Before I knew it, 5 courses and an amuse became 14 courses, several wine and drink ideas and covered the globe in a path a resident of The World would be proud of.  So I decided to simplify, or complicate depending on how you read it, and make the comfort food meal into three meals, each of a different region.

This month will be Latin America.  These are foods that I miss from my nearly 40 years in The States, foods I haven't seen as often here in London as I did in Los Angeles.  I'm sure the reasons are obvious to everyone, but I miss these foods very much never the less.

November we'll cover Japan, Korea and possibly Vietnam. December will bring us more local with European comfort foods.

I've attached the menu below.
Same drill: first email, first served.  Tell me your preference of which night, and also let me know if you can take a seat on the other night if I'm already full.  The cash contribution is £40 per person again, bring your own wine/drink.  I'll send pairing recommendations in the confirmation email.

Hope to fill up both nights and have as lively a time as ever!  Also, if you would like to forward this email along to anyone you think is game, please do so, just have them let me know who sent them so I can thank you.
Annick @ Runaway Kitchen

5 Course Latin Comfort Foods Secret Dinner, October 21st and 22nd, 7:30 pm

Amuse Bouche:

Caipirinha and Coconut Jelly


Tostones with Black Bean and Aji Salsa


Bohlinho de Bacalao with Molho Campanha- Fried codfish balls with mild pepper sauce

Chile Rellenos-  roasted Peppers stuffed with Shredded Pork, Sweet Potato and Apricot with Salsa Nogada and Pomegranate Seeds

Brazilian Gringo Moqueca com Pirão- Stew of Prawn, Squid, Scallop, Clams and Whitefish

Argentine Humitas- (think triangular tamales) Husks stuffed Masa Harina, Sweetcorn and Cheese served with Tomatillo Sauce

Goat Milk Flan with Cajeta

Thursday, September 16, 2010

September Secret Dinner

What an equally gorgeous and mucky summer we've had.  Bad for getting a tan but lovely for growing things that need sun and rain.  I've put the menu for the next secret dinner together now and it's just time to get out and start foraging!

Dinners will be September 16th and 17th at 7 pm and the menu is as follows (barring any problems with the foraging).  I did sample some of the cress growing in Bushy Park and it was sharp, peppery perfection!

Secret Dinner September
Foraged Meal

Amuse Bouche:
Mulberry + Red Currant Gin Vesper

Hampstead Heath Nettle Soufflés topped with Pickled Wild Harvested Bracken and Dandelion Greens
Rosehip Jelly glazed Pork with Sour Apples, Rosemary and Flageolet-Haricot Bean Salad
Buckwheat Gnocchi with Bushy Park Watercress Pesto
Frozen Blackberries with Double Cream and Fennel - Black Pepper Dust
Clafouti of My Neighbor's Prune Plums, Fence Grapes and Regent's Park Honey

Friday, September 10, 2010

Borough Market Munching

We have loads of friends coming through London all the time, I often give tips on where to go and what to see all over the city but just this past week I've pointed at least 3 parties in the direction of Borough Market, noting my favorite places to nibble, shop and sip.  It occurred to me that rather than my usual jotting down on a scrap of paper or, when I'm feeling more organized- sending an email with links, I could make a blog entry and just link everyone to it.  If it ever needs an update, well, then just update the blog...

So here goes, a list that will hopefully serve some very well.

I generally enter Borough Market from the London Bridge Station approach.  Passing the temptations of Tapas Brindisa only to save myself for the dining ahead.

This summer I noticed a new addition to the market and was intrigued- rough hewn boutique called The Rabot Estate had opened in a spot just beyond Brindisa and just before that beautiful florist's shop.  I had high hopes on first glance, but more thorough investigation revealed a wall of the Hotel Chocolate range.  I may be a total and unrepentant chocolate snob, but I don't care for Hotel... I first encountered them at The Southbank Chocolate Festival this past spring and was impressed by their marketing and corporate strategies but was unimpressed by their chocolate.  It turns out that Rabot is just a rebranding of Hotel, single sourced, smaller batched but much the same.   Now, if you like Ghiradelli Chocolate or Cadbury, you'll like Hotel and Rabot, I just don't care for it.

So my first stop in the market is generally Monmouth Coffee.  A great place for a flat white, latté, filter drip, name your poison.  Mind the line if you get there later than the crack of dawn, but they do have kind people who move down the line jotting down orders when the queue is out of hand.

Nest stop, Neal's Yard Dairy, where you can sample your way down the counter and might very well feel like an expert on British cheeses at the end.  Make sure you check out the humidifying system- a beautiful marriage of a rainfall shower head and an old wine barrel.

Now return to the market, taking note of the German Deli across the street.  Go in if you like german things, they have some nice bits and bobs...

Proceed to your left and across the street from Monmouth, right next to Ginger Pig, is Brindisa Spanish Foods Shop (the shop counterpart to the tapas bar down the road and numerous other lovely places in the franchise).  Outside you can't miss, mustn't miss the lovely chorizo + piquillo pepper + rocket + crusty grilled bread drizzled in grassy olive oil sandwiches.  The double is tempting, but there's a lot more eating to do, so go single.  Browse inside the shop and emerge on the other side, perhaps with your carry bag a little heavier from some gran reserva jamon or PX vinegar.  Turn to your right and pop into the queue at Shellseekers and have some of their lovely scallops or any of the other delicious critters they're serving up on a shell.

Keep moving in the direction or detour through the Jubilee Market and settle in for a cooking demo, sample some lovely scrummy truffle goodness.  Or stop in at The Cinnamon Tree stand and pick up a cinnamon biscuit imprinted with a gorgeous elephant image (their shortbread owls are nice, too, but you'll never regret the cinnamon elephant).

At the intersection of Rochester Walk and Middle Row you'll find Roast's little stand (full restaurant is upstairs) where you can have an amazing pork sandwich with crackling.

Just before you cross the road into Green Market take one last detour, wiggling in between the two butchers (Wyndham House Poultry and Northfield Farm), down a side avenue and pick up a creme caramel and a Chegworth Valley juice.  I can highly recommend the Apple Beetroot and the Rhubarb.  Or really any flavor.

Now make your way to the Green Market and definitely pass up the offerings at Fish! Nothing really amazing there.  In the Green Market you'll find some great charcuterie from Spain, France, etc etc.  But the best thing going there is the non-raclette Raclette at Kappacasein.  Really, how could you go wrong with broiled cheese, potatoes and bread and pickly bits?  You can't.  So fill your belly a little more, if you can, with this NR-Raclette.  And keep your eyes peeled for Richard Haward's oysters on the half shell.  You'll want them with fizz if they're offering.

Now if you have any dessert you feel like enjoying picnic style, you can go fight your way to a grassy patch in the garden of Southwark Cathredral.  It's a nice little spot, but the pigeons are ruthless so beware and be watchful!

Now to walk all of this off you'll be happy to know that there's a very pleasant walk along the Thames stretching all the way to The Tate Modern and once they've finished the Blackfriars Tube Station extension all the way to the London Eye and beyond.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Loveli Fungi

I went on my first London foray yesterday in Hampstead Heath, led by Andy Overall of A Fungi To Be With, London's longest standing fungus group.  It started around the end of punk, a good time to shake off the noise put your nose to the still and silent ground and start foraging.
Like anything good and fun, this foray started at the car boot
Telling the edibles from the toxic
Andy is a wealth of information about these clever little colonists, with 20+ years of research under his belt.  As an enthusiast and ranger at Kenwood House estate, he's cataloged hundreds of species in the Heath over the years, and even with that, we managed o find a couple of fungi that stumped him!  Foraging for mushrooms has been a London pre-occupation for a very long, most notably since the second world war and the many european communities who settled here, so there's competition for harvesting in good spots. Still, I managed to come home with enough to show for my not-so-hard work!

My first edible Russula!
A lovely Penny Bun, probably only a day old.  It will mature in 3 days.
I was lucky enough to have found some great things- a couple of edible Russulas, a few Penny Bun Cepes and a couple of Blushers.  The Russulas were right next to a stand of sloes so I did my first picking of London's favorite foraged fruit right there.  The cepes were a bit more tricky, hiding under the fallen seed pods of a very happy Hornbeam tree.

This Bolete oxidizes to a lovely azure blue when cut or bruised
Andy offers a packed schedule of guided forays and even a breakfast foray that includes eating a hearty breakfast at the end of a tour hour search.

The fungal booty.  Caution: Mushrooms with brittle
 gills will crumble in flat bag.
I learned that some of these fungi people (from the good old days and from now) have a good sense of humor, too.  Smell is important in identification and while most smelled of almond or cleaning agent or "normal" things, one of the olfactory terms is "spermatic" as in, smells like sperm.  Yes, that sperm.  Ick.  Then there was the species named for hemorrhoids, the charcoal burner, etc etc and other names that would scare the pants on any unknowing diners.  Also, there's a definite sense of danger in this kind of foraging.  Andy wove tales of what happens when you get the wrong mushroom, blood being cleaned through liquid charcoal, full body tranfusions, kidney transplants... so beware!

I'm waiting for my husband to return from Helsinki to eat them.  Although I've been assured that they are all edible by the pro, just to be safe, we'll dine on them together.  And watch for symptoms...

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Cookshops and Bookshops

I'll be attending a lecture this week on Jellies.  It's the inaugural talk by The Experimental Food Society featuring Bompas and Parr and it will be at The Cookbook Café in Hyde Park Corner.

"...the event celebrates the launch of their eagerly anticipated book ‘Jelly’ published by Anova.
 Operating in the space between food and architecture, Bompas & Parr’s works include Jelly Banquet for the London Festival of Architecture, Barajas Airport for Lord Richard Rogers and Funeral Jellies for San Francisco Museum of Modern Art to name a few. Exploring how the taste of food is altered through synaesthesia, performance and setting, they have made jelly de rigueur again. Find out what makes these incredible culinary creatives tick at the Experimental Food Society Talk, as Bompas & Parr take you through the history of jelly from BC to today, demonstrating how to make some of the world’s best loved jellies such as the Jelly Hippocras, a favourite of Henry V111. Covering topics such as jelly and seduction, Bompas & Parr will show you how to touch someone’s most sensitive organ, their belly, whilst offering a tasting of a variety of jellies whose recipes have been taken from their book."

All this talk of cookbooks and shops twirled up with preparations for the Salt Tasting dinner next week have lit me into a fervor of finding interesting London shops that I haven't yet tried.  In my internet travels I've now come across Gill Winn shops in Islington, who seem to carry not only items that the chef in all of us would moon over but a healthy display of shoes, jewelery and gifts in other storefronts and they also have a 140 acre organic farm just south of Tunbridge Wells.  They'll likely stay on my radar for a while!

Another vendor I have had on my list for quite some time and need to research in person is Divertimenti. In addition to the usual selling-things-people-like-to-buy, they also offer a score of cooking classes catering to the novice as well as the expert.  An impressive list of CVs on these instructors as well!

And finally, tomorrow I shall track down to Notting Hill to check out The Spice Shop and see what exotic salts and other things they have to offer.  I know one thing I'll be investing in is "American French Fry Salt".  And I'm intrigue by the Rose Vanilla Chilli Salt, although it may end up making my palate feel like it's on a trip on a busy roundabout with no exits!

Time permitting I'll also visit a few other Notting Hill spots:
Books for Cooks
The Hummingbird Bakery (still never been!)
The Grocer on Elgin

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Organ meats in East Dulwich, Afternoon Tea in The City...

I've finally made it out to East Dulwich and Franklins and I have to say that it was well worth the trek.  I had my first ever rolled spleen (sounds awful I know, couldn't they have come up with a cuter name like "sweetbreads" gets?) and enjoyed some perfectly prepared wood pigeon. I'm not sure how often I'll want to walk to bus to tube to bus to walk there, but I imagine it will be once in a while.

I've been researching places for afternoon tea for my sister and her daughters when they come to visit in August.  My nieces are 7 and 10, so they will enjoy much of the food and atmosphere at most places, but I'm hoping that they will want to attend somewhere a bit more interesting and unique than Harrod's.  I may have to go on a fact finding mission to Sketch, though.  I've read very nice things about their interiors and the things that come on the tiered plates, but I also read a little tidbit about a sculpture of two dogs copulating in the corner of the room.  Not exactly age appropriate for the girls...

Perhaps it will have to be Fortnum and Mason for tea.  Or Liberty...

Tuesday, June 8, 2010


I've been very excited about a couple of different ventures for Runaway Kitchen- but the most exciting is that we'll be having a monthly underground restaurant at our flat and other venues.  Thanks to good friends and good vendors, we had a very successful run in San Francisco and when I wax sentimental about my good old days spanning two decades as a chef, these are the stand out memories. (That and hanging out with Joe Strummer back in my private chef days in Los Angeles).

Our first underground restaurant will be June 24th at 7 pm and we're hoping for a full and lively table.  There are 12 seats (some already reserved, so email for a spot!) at our communal table, elbow to elbow, so it's a first email, first served thing.  We'll be serving a 5 course meal and asking for contributions of £40 per person.  It will be bring your own beverage, see attached the menu for pairings.

Future events will be 5 course Hot and Spicy!, 4 course Tea Pairing Luncheon, Dinner and a Movie Night and the list goes on...

The first event will be a 5 course Salt Tasting:

A long row of various salts will be placed down the center of the table.
Amuse Bouche:


         little toasts of "bread" made with chickpea flour and olive oil.  great salted!

Butternut squash soup

         Drizzled with Nettle Sauce and Truffle Oil

 Dorade with a Kosher Salt and fresh Rosemary crust

         Served with a little salad of greens tossed in oil, ready to be sprinkled with salt at the table.

 Gardener's Delight Tomatoes

         Topped with melons, avocados and quail eggs.  A perfect way to sample the row of salts.

 Salt roasted chicken

     A marvelous chinese process.  Rock Salt is heated in a wok and the chicken is buried in it,  searing the skin and trapping all of the bird's juices inside.  The chicken ends up tasting like duck.  Served with hoisin sauce and chinese greens.



Caramels with fleur de sel

         French candy's delicious answer to the super sweet aftertaste of caramel.  Salt!

Pears Roasted in Salt

         served with Balsamic vinegar reduction.  Tastes like chocolate.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Dining out and way out

When we first relocated here in London, I was equipped with a long list of places I wanted to visit, well a list of food places and then other lists for other interests.  But since we've settled in and become "locals" the list continues to grow.  I've managed to make it out to many, but there's still the nagging list.

Back in January I discovered Le Café Anglais.  Wow!  That was a great meal, I can't wait to return.  The meal started with cocktails in the bar while we waited for our table (we arrived early, they were punctual).  I had my first and definitely far from my last sip of the White Lady.  Promptly ordering a second.  Highlights of the meal were the Pike Boudin, made in-house with fines herbes and served with the most delicate bearnaise I've had in years; the fois gras terrine with PX jelly; a gorgeous cheese course for dessert paired with a lovely Stichelton.

With posh art deco interiors, generous booth seating and an impressive view into the kitchen (a chef's dream complete with gorgeous cast iron rotisseries and well sized stations for everyone from garde manger to plongeur) it was a great place for a beautiful meal with friends or as a date.  Although I feel the dining with friends experience would facilitate more dishes on the table to try and perhaps some help with that generous portion of fois gras.  Wow. That was a great meal. Can't wait to return...

But before I do that, I should try out some more places on the list:
River Cafe- Embarrassingly, I have had to cancel two reservations due to other commitments... I'll get there yet. 
Albion Caff
- We've peered in from the bakery, too full from a generous meal at Shoreditch House.  Admired the interiors (thank you Mister Conran!) and plan to come out on a casual breezy weekend morn.
Le Bel Canto- I admit, opera during a meal might get a bit annoying, but I'm constantly searching for that dinner show I've seen countless times in Thin Man films.
Franklin's Restaurant
And one day when I am old and gray and have loads of cash falling out of my pockets:
Travel for the Arts

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Bread from the Start: Part 1

Several weeks back, my friend Florence and I got to talking about baking our own bread at home.  Not the soft textured, easy to eat hot out of the oven breads that you can turn out in under 4 hours, but the toothsome, slightly nutty and perhaps a touch sour breads you can make when you birth and nurse a starter.  Florence and I consulted different cookbooks (she chose Moro, I chose La Brea Bakery) but started out nearly the same- with a bag of flour, a clean container, some cheesecloth and 500 g of black grapes.

Since the first day of the experiment, I've had a roving eye.  I see starter recipes everywhere now and am making a list which I plan on writing about in this series.  I will explore a recipe sent to me by a friend which is copied from Fergus Henderson, another from Seattle chef Leslie Mackie who owns and operates Macrina Bakery, another from Clothilde of the ubiquitous Chocolate and Zucchini blog...

Before this whole process of testing starters began I was a full fledged, no questions asked devotee of Nancy Silverton.  In the mid 90s, I spent countless days veering off of my path from work to home or home to work to stock up on loaves of her spectacular bread, tossing other wonderful delights into the grocery bag as well- smoked paprika I could find nowhere else, lovely cheeses, divine sweet pastries.  I was truly delighted when I left LA and was able to find her bread in San Francisco later in the 90s.  And then in 2009 when I relocated to London, I was astonished to find her bread (now being made by an Irish concern who bought her out years ago, but still honor her recipes and use her branding) in my local Tesco Express.  I am still a huge fan of her work, but with withholding some of my former blind enthusiasm.  And I have to blame starter for my mixed feelings...

The process was very straightforward, crushing grapes, adding flour and water, letting it sit for several days while it matured and then beginning a series of feedings over the course of 15 days.  Once I started baking I found the starter to be very resilient and alive, and began making gorgeous loaves of bread!  The only drawback is the amount of flour sent down the drain in the process of keeping the starter alive and the reviving it back from sleep.  To get to that first batch of bread I used up 20 pounds of flour.  At the start of every day, around 2 cups of starter were retained while nearly 2 quarts were poured off.  As a sentimental former pet owner, I became very attached to my yeasty friends, but unless I open a small bakery in my home and buy a couple of full sized fridges, this process will always require a fair amount of waste.  So onwards and forwards to other recipes that require a bit less waste.  To be continued.

Oh! And if you're in the London area, ping me and I will shoot some starter your way.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Ottolenghi, a bit stale. Fig, understated perfection.

I should always remember that when a place has expanded from one brilliant restaurant to many, then to many with cookbooks and products out everywhere, that they are not likely to have food that inspires me.  Truly, they can still bring generally good food to the public and serve it up in interesting ways.  They can have a lovely environment in which to enjoy that food and they can also satisfy the appetites and palates of countless others who are not me.  A year after he won the James Beard Award for Best Restaurant, we had a mediocre dinner at Mario Batali's Babbo, but had to wait for ages to get a table... I guess perhaps I'm just one of those "No one goes there anymore, it's too crowded" people.

I've heard so many great things about Ottolenghi since we relocated to London over a year ago.  I planned my visit on a day when I would be able to savor my meal alone, tasting every morsel, but not influenced by good conversation nor would I be distracted by it... but instead of being lost in the sublime and clever flavor combinations I expected from a brand so convincingly obsessed with food and "loud" ingredients.  Their blog reads well and is absolutely studded with links to other people and places committed to food. But.

The interior design is impressive but not imposing, guiding you past their "deli" which seems to be more sweet than savoury.  Good for dashing in and grabbing something quick for tea or dessert after dinner.  Very nicely displayed, well made pastries, cakes, cookies and a mountain of meringue.

I found the staff to be very accommodating, giving me a nice seat in the middle of the gorgeous communal table in the middle of the Islington branch.  They were quick to bring me my menu and then to take my order.  But I wouldn't give them proper marks for delivering the food so quickly that it appears to have been plopped onto the plate by a cafeteria matron.  I ordered using the style they recommended on the lunch menu- one entrée and and three sides.  I also had them bring me a nice glass of rosé as it was the perfect weather for it.  Oddly, the rosé took a very long time to arrive as did the water I requested (a pet peeve that it is so difficult to get water in most restaurants and yet salt and pepper are plopped down on the table without any compunction).
I ordered the Lamb Koftas which I found bland and served far too cold.  The side of yogurt sauce was pleasant but nothing extraordinary.  For salads I chose a chargrilled broccoli which was adequate in its preparation, but perhaps not sourced so well, having so much white and not very tender stems, both of which I find important in the look of the dish.  Onto the Grilled Peach Salad (which I ordered out of curiosity considering the early time of year for fresh peaches... I am still curious) with a nice combination of greens, candies pecans and blue veined cheese.  Sadly, they pushed the palate too far by adding rosewater.  This with the underripe peaches, some of which had not been grilled well, made it a not very satisfying salad.  Finally, I had the Aubergine Roasted with Tahini, which was perfection.
I imagine I will return to try them out again or to dine with a friend.  Perhaps I should try another branch.  I have heard raves about their fish preparations.  And I never took advantage of their gimmicky toasters (they bring you slices of bread, you test them a la minute.  Gimmicky, I know, but the Dualit toasters are pretty and hot toast is indeed a nice thing.  Fred 62 in Los Angeles has been at this for over a decade).

A restaurant that has been around for several years has just, happily, come into my view.  Fig happened my way on a search for an address in Islington and friendly google maps pinpointed it off in the distance.  How could I not be attracted to the word "fig" loitering off in a somewhat residential corner?  After browsing their website, I set a reservation and was there, fork in hand within a few days.  We decided to see what the chef could do and had the tasting menu with wine pairings.  I was thoroughly impressed with all of it.  The waitress was informative, excited about the food and eager to see us happy with what we had.  The room was filled with all kinds, locals, first dates, a mum and her two tweenie sons (who obviously have amazing palates as they were trying to guess what they ate and how it was prepared!) and us.  They have a small dining room but it feels uncluttered and simply decorated with beautiful worn woods and small bits of art, graphic studies and some palm sized sculptures carefully placed here and there.  The food felt much the same- carefully selected ingredients, thoughtfully handled and arranged on the plate with aesthetics in mind just as much as taste.  And none of this felt fussy.

Several months back we dined at Fat Duck for lunch.  A memorable and mind blowing experience but one I won't revisit often in my life- I don't need to eat like this every day.  At this meal at the lovely Fig, I recognized elements of Fat Duck, especially in their preparation of mackerel- they had interpreted this plated seaside visit very well, but in their own voice and not in Mr. Blumenthal's.  Their foam was tasty and the "sand" genius.  The fish was amazing but did not require the attention (no headsets with sounds of gulls and waves in your ears, just conversation) and worship given at FD.

The rest of the meal was filled with happy moments and gorgeous wine pairings (the best I've had yet in London, very informed and open to suggestion or redirection should we have chosen).  I missed the pressed rhubarb dessert but plan to return soon and try.  As we chatted with the waitress at the end of our meal about our experience, she asked us what we would give them on a scale of 1 to 10.  I said a solid 9.  Of course, how can you give anyone else a 10 though after you've been Fat Ducked?

A quick mention of the lovely drink we had in the neighborhood before dining at Fig.  Just kitty corner from the restaurant on Roman Way, we found an interesting tapas bar and popped in for a Mojito fitting the unusually summery weather.  It was prepared individually and carefully, muddling the sugar and leaves, adding rum and freshly crushed ice (employing one of those great windup ice crushing gadgets straight out of your dad's 1960's tiki bar).

I would also, finally like to mention Modern Pantry a new discovery for me in Clerkenwell.  Keep your eyes peeled for posts about here and and numerous excellent meals at St John...

Friday, May 28, 2010

Cookery Classes in Hampstead!

I'm very excited to announce that Runaway Kitchen is offering cooking classes! 

The first class will be June 15th, 2010 and we'll be focusing on Fish Cookery, exploring techniques, complimentary ingredients and discussing sourcing.  The class begins at 10:00am and will end around 2 or 3 pm and will be at my home in Hampstead. 

Here's what we'll be up to:
We'll begin with a quick introduction, then go downstairs to meet my fishmonger, Glenn Fuller, who drives out from the Port of Grismby with fresh fish every week. 

We will select our fish and then go back upstairs and roast it, cure it, fry and grill it.  There will be a lunch break towards the end of class when we'll be rewarded with our lovely cooking and a fine glass of wine to compliment.

The class size is limited to 5, so please do email me back to save your place. I plan to run this class with regularity, so if the first fills up fast I'll email a new date out soon!

Looking forward!

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Green Lemon Olive Oil

Well, I've done it.  I've managed to savour my last drops of Green Lemon Oil from O&Co (RIP London store which closed its doors this year in February).  I only used it for the best recipes and when the can started to get very very light, some would say empty, I turned it on its side to let the drops gather better and then onto its top for the final pool of green lemon magic.

My discovery of this sumptuous oil came late.  On a visit with my parents my mom was thrilled to find the oil on the very very picked over, last days, while shops last shelves.  She told me how she uses the oil, tossing it with a medley of pre-cooked canned beans and a wee bit of salt.  Perhaps a squeeze of juice from their abundant Meyer Lemon tree out back (Southern California is quite generous with its citrus).  Since then my variations on her recipe have gone all the way to clay baked gigantes with greek oregano.

And I branched out, too.  I bought some lovely little wild sea bass filets from my fishmonger and diced my way to ceviche heaven, adding just a bit of lime juice and some shallot and coriander leaf. I tried it again with mackerel, sublime.  I oven dried tomatoes and served them on slices of bread drizzled lightly with the nectar.  I imagine that had I been able to hold out until peach season the oil would have lent its delicious bitter and warm flavor to the stone fruit, maybe with a touch of avocado, some fresh feta and heirloom tomato.

I suppose I could find the O & Co genius oil somewhere else, maybe online, maybe in Paris.  I will look.  But until then I will wax sentimental and leave the tin on the shelf as a reminder.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Olive Oil Cake, Banana Cake, Cake, Cake, Cake!!

In preparation for my son's second birthday party and the ensuing fairy cake madness, I have launched myself headlong into the world of cake baking once again.  Since we arrived in the UK over a year ago I have been interested in self-raising flour, but have had little excuse to try it out.  I have grown used to my little teaspoons of baking soda/powder and sift sift sifting my way to risen cakes.
But I recently realized that it was silly of me not to give it a shot.  And now I am pretty convinced that adding the leavening in before the mixing begins is nothing short of genius!  It's a simple equation, so I'm left a little puzzled as to why this hasn't made it over to our side of the pond.

The first big trial of these magical flours (they come in white and wholemeal) was a half batch of Banana Muffins which I decided to fill with some leftover ganache I had.  I'm a little in love with the recipe I found in The Baker's Dozen, which I've modified slightly by using lard instead of the suggested vegetable shortening (ugh, Crisco).  I know that there are many out there who think lard in cakes sound awful, but never a lighter, chewier texture will you get than when using our porcine friends' fat.

As I was pressing my very ripe bananas through my ricer (this really beats hand mashing, done quickly, less mess) I realized that I also had some very very ripe pears waiting to be put to use.  I had some non-lard-eating friends coming over the next day and knew I would just end up with way tooooo much cake if I used lard in both baked goodies, so I decided to fiddle with my "Kona Inn Banana Bread" recipe once again.  Lots of substitutions this time.  Cross out mashed banana, insert chopped unpeeled pear.  Cross out baking soda, half the salt and insert self-raising flour.  Cross out walnuts and insert stem ginger (crystallized in the States)... and so on. But I just couldn't bring myself to use vegetable shortening.  Not only do I dislike using it, I don't have any around and I didn't want to leave the kitchen this particular morning.  So I thought on it and decided olive oil was definitely the way to go.

I pulled out my Maryann cake pan (some call it a Charlotte pan, I am one of those, but this one I bought at Crate and Barrel 2 years ago used the former), did a poor job of prepping it, which ended in the cake sticking very well to the pan all the way around the edge.  But I was undeterred after smelling the cakes baking, how could this cake fail?  I needed something to pretty everything up and spackle the cake back together.  Of course, mascarpone!  And then the final touch, little toasted hazelnuts on the peaks of all of the icing.  The whole new recipe was a success.  All guests loved it, and now that there is only one slice left, I am already missing it.

Here's the recipe:

Pear Ginger Cake with Mascarpone Hazelnut Top
2 cups chopped, unpeeled anjou pears
1 cup wholemeal self raising flour*
1 1/2 cups white self raising flour*
generous pinch of salt
2 cups sugar
1 cup fruity extra virgin olive oil
4 large eggs, at room temp
3 T coarsely cut stem ginger

*if you don't use self raising, add 2 t baking soda and 1 t salt for the whole recipe

Preheat the oven to 180º C (350º F). Lightly butter and flour a charlotte pan or 9" springform.
In a large bowl, mix the olive oil and sugar and then add the eggs, one at a time incorporating well after each addition.  Stir in the pear and stem ginger. Fold the flour and salt in in two parts.  Pour into prepared pan and smooth the top.
Bake for an hour, until a skewer comes out clean.  Cool in the pan for 20 minutes then loosen the edges with a small offset spatula and carefully de-pan.
Let cool completely before topping.

Mascarpone Topping
2 cups mascarpone
1/2 cup soured cream
3 T turbinado sugar
1/2 cups toasted, peeled hazelnuts
Mix all ingredients in a bowl and blend until it stiffens again.  Transfer the mixture into a large piping bag fitted with a large, open tip. First pipe a large circle around the interior edge of the circle.  Follow the pattern of the circle with mounds or a spiral, depending on how you'd like it to look.  Top with hazelnuts.

We had ours with strong Lapsang Souchong Tea. (We drank Twinings brand from their Aromatics range, but my first L.S. way back in the mid 80s was crafted by Taylor's of Harrogate and it was sublime, I still remember being stunned by the smoke and sweet).  The smoky flavor was a nice foil to the earthy pear and ginger and the creamy mascarpone.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Tiny, perfect, local organic greens

I am so thrilled that the Farmer's Market at Swiss Cottage is back in full swing! I ambled through on Wednesday and paused a little longer at the stall for Wild Country Organics. I was encouraged to grab a handful of anything I wanted to try and nibble away... so of course I did. I started with the Bubble Cress, which fits its utterly delectable name. The flavor comes on mild then sort of percolates over your palate and gives you a little hint of pear and persimmon on the way out. Mmmmm. I moved on to Land Cress (wow! It sure did pack a wollop!) and then Claytonia (we called it Miner's Lettuce in California, mostly because of the gold rush miners who used it for nutrition and Vitamin C, I've been told), sorrel, lovely sweet broccoli called Kaibroc and so on and so on down Mizuna Lane just past Rocket Way- a lovely drive for my palate.
I brought my lovely bag of greens home with two beautiful mahogany colored radicchio, spotty and loose leaved, which I plan to braise in some brown butter and serve with pork roast this Easter Weekend. The bag of greens I shared with my lovely friend Florence and then made a simple salad dressing the greens in Winter harvest Olive Oil, mandarin orange juice and a pinch of Maldon Sea Salt. After all of the sharing and salad making I still had a good 2 cups of greens, so I decided to pull out an old recipe for Sorrel Sauce.
I first made this as an accompaniment for Salt Roasted Thai Snapper at a Secret Restaurant we used to host in our flat in San Francisco. I had quite a bit of greens other than sorrel, so the flavor was a bit less lemony and a bit more peppery. I imagine that I will poach some lovely eggs tomorrow and serve them on crostini with generous dollops of the Wild Greens Sauce on top.

Wild Greens Sauce

4 oz butter

2 cups chopped fresh sorrel, claytonia, land cress, bubble cress or the like

1/2 cup dry white wine

3 T minced shallots

1 1/2 cups tomato peeled, seeded and diced

1 cup double cream

1 T fresh lime juice

fresh ground white and black pepper

Melt butter. Combine sorrel, wine and shallots in heavy small saucepan. Stir over medium heat until sorrel wilts, about 2 minutes. Add tomato, cream and lime juice. Simmer until reduced to sauce consistency, about 12 minutes. Remove from heat and purée until smooth. Season with ground white pepper and salt. The sauce is good right away but matures overnight if you have the willpower to wait!

Makes approximately 7 cups

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Chocolate Festival at Southbank Centre

I was lucky enough to be able to catch the Chocolate Festival at Southbank Centre last weekend. The usual suspects all showed up, plus some newcomers; there were chocolate fountains, filled and painted eggs, tamales filled with chocolate, chocolate lollies made to look like anything that would appeal to kids and then loads of people making very refined chocolates- carefully sourced and delicately made confections.

I had my first encounter with Hotel Chocolates who are attempting to grown their own cacao, a noble enterprise. However, I'd have to say that while they have their marketing down- setting up corporate packages offering year round chocolate delivery- and the looks of their product is very sleek, it feels in no way handmade and the chocolates themselves left me pining for Criollo, Masdagascar, Ghana, Costa Rica. Instead I tasted sugar, cocoa butter and well, additives. I wish that I could rave about them since they are attempting something noble- to extricate themselves from the world of chocolate's dirty little secret.
I browsed my way through Rococo's offerings and now am a devotee. They have gorgeous packaging, which always leaves me wondering how things will taste. A+ in both arenas! The Gull's Eggs gave forth a lovely, not runny, salted caramel and had the perfect bite on the shell. Their Scorched Hazelnuts must be a classic in their collection because I ate four in quick succession, continued to snack on them until the bag was empty and then have been dreaming about them since (they are easy enough to get, I just might need to curb my appetite for them!). I have yet to try the flavored bars they offer, but plan to soon.
My favorite vendor by far was a newcomer on the scene (although she has quite the chocolate background having worked with Rococo and other confectioners)- Raffaella Baruzzo. She sources her ingredients in Italy- the freshest walnuts from Piedmont, the loveliest hazelnuts as well. She is working with confectioners making many wonderful treats, but one that caught my eye was i Tochi (what we call bark in the stateside) in clever combinations. I brought home a packet of Pistachio and Golden Raisins enrobed in white chocolate. Not too sweet or cloying, these were made correctly.
I also made a little trip to heaven tasting her chocolate covered nuts- the aforementioned walnut and hazelnuts. I am slowly devouring the bag of Gianduja she makes- rolled in dark cocoa powder rather than the usual cloak of couverture. Raffaella and I talked of setting up a special tasting and when that happens I shall post about it here.
In the meantime, I will be nibbling my way through the spoils of my trip out to Southbank.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

New excuses to bake

I know it's the done thing to bake in the winter, starting in the fall and just baking baking your way through the dreary months. I always seem to forget this and start thinking about baking only when it's begun to warm up, making the hot oven sometimes a little bit of an inconvenience in the peak of summer. But this year I have an even better reason for my crazy spring baking than in year's past- my son's 2nd birthday party is just around the corner and I need get cracking on the perfect carrot and the perfect chocolate fairy cake recipes.

Luckily, I discovered a great online cook shop called Lakeland (oh, they sell some other things, but I am the girl who always lingers in the kitchenwares aisle, even online). I started out just needing a new cooling rack, but then realized that there were other things I should plop in my trolley. For instance, I have been mourning the loss of my beautiful Madeline pans since they slipped into the wall behind our boiler months ago. It seems there's a 3 for 2 sale on, so 3 pans in the trolley later... then I realized that these fairy cakes would need colorful decoration (I want the to turn out like the ones I found a photo of online, with the Totoro casually sitting on top in rolled icing), so a set of Wilton's food coloring went in. Since that brought me to the cake decorating area, my eye caught on these wonderful piping bags that are silicone lined, bumpy on the outside and come in a 50 pack. Just like we used to use years ago when I was a baker and wedding cake decorator. All for home use. A few other needed items in the trolley, check out and then, tick tock, wait wait wait.

Well, the baking bug had properly set in since the order was sent, so this morning I decided to put some carrots to good use. I also thought it was high time I tried out a Gordon Ramsay recipe. Just as the mini carrot cakes were ready to pull out of their pan, the bell rang and there was my order- 6 days sooner than I expected! Hooray. The jury is still out on the carrot muffin recipe, they're not nearly moist enough. Once I come up with my best recipes for these birthday fairy cakes I will make sure to post!

I also plan to get cracking on Madelines and Financiers soon! First I have to corner the market on butter...